Our friends at @ReadEverton asked twitter followers if they were confident of a win at Arsenal. No. Hopeful, maybe, but how could we be confident after our trouncing by Man Utd, their win against the might of Bayern, and the little matter of history against us, in that we’ve not won at Arsenal since Stuart got the winner back in 1996. Hope, as Evertonians know only too well, springs eternal, but it remains just that. Hope. Confidence in situations like this doesn’t come in to it. Expectations might be more of a conversation though.
That’s not me being overly pessimistic, and being a bit of a grouch on a lovely Sunday afternoon. Well, it is a bit. But as far as expectations go, we might have expected Arsenal to be tired both physically and emotionally after their superb win against Bayern. But no. We might have expected a winless streak of 19 years to end at some point, so why not now? But no. We might have expected our goalkeeper to command his area and come for obviously dangerous crosses. But no. And we might have expected the defence in front of said goalkeeper to get their heads on those same crosses, or any of the endless stream of corners that we faced in a fraught first half. But no to that as well.
All in all, a pretty abject first half performance defensively, and only a hit-and-hope-ooh-I’ve-got-a-deflection goal from the enigmatic Barkley kept us in the game, and allowed for an admittedly much improved second half.
The goalkeeping conundrum is a tough one to crack. There is little doubt, and generally much consensus, that Tim Howard has cost us a few goals this season. The weak defence (no pun intended) to that assertion is that goalkeepers often do make mistakes that lead to goals, by the very nature of their role. The much missed Butland, missed in that many seem to think we could have bought him (really? When?), let one in at his near post yesterday that would have had the anti-Howard brigade fuelled up for lots more rants. Marshall at Cardiff who has his Evertonian admirers, has conceded at least two this season to the best of my knowledge that slipped under his body. We could go on. The reality is that we have Tim and Joel, and both of them are giving us jitters at the moment. We can assume Joel will start on Tuesday, and we can but hope (expect?) that we’ll score more than them because we know Robles takes a game or two to get in to the rhythm of ‘keeping, but it is also a possibility that if he has a stormer, that he’ll actually start against Sunderland. That’s the Sunderland who were whipping boys, but after today now look a bit like world-beaters. Them. Will Robles start? I doubt it. Roberto has never been shy to support his established players, and even when Howard was injured last season and Robles had a 5 game stint between the sticks in which he not only didn’t disappoint, he actually did much better than that and was very unlucky to be dropped when Howard was fit again. But is now the time to drop Howard? The reality is that Joel is a ‘keeper in the same mould as Howard – a very good shot-stopper, but you have kittens every time the ball is lobbed in to the box. I can’t say that Joel would have done any better than Timbo for Arsenal’s two goals yesterday, and so the fact remains we need a new keeper. No-one lets their keeper go mid season, so whilst we wait for the summer window to bring us a worldy in goal, we need to get behind the two we’ve got. I’m not sure either read the Twitterati, but if they do, it’s unlikely to be filling them with confidence, and the one thing you want a ‘keeper to have is confidence. If we can stand the tension, we need to get right behind these two from now until June. But I doubt we’ll all do that.
The failings in front of Howard were there again yesterday, and maybe too much focus is on the last line of defence and not the one in front. We struggled against Barnsley with balls in the air in our box, rumoured to be an important part of football these days, and yesterday Jags and the boys still looked uncertain, and that was without the giant Mertesacker to contend with. That needs urgent attention because it looks more of a coaching issue than a personnel issue. Having said that, with Jags indisposed for a large part of the second half against Arsenal, we once again saw the potential in our Argentinian International, Funes Mori, curiously booed by the Arsenal fans who clearly haven’t forgotten 1982, but definitely have forgotten Nelson Vivas (easy mistake to make). I continue to be impressed by this lad (Mori not Vivas), and, you know, we might just have chanced on a more solid defensive combo with him in the side. Yesterday he assumed his left hand berth, Stones his right, and we seemed immediately more solid, albeit against a tiring Arsenal. A left footer and a right footer might be better than two right footers! Mori will play the ball out of defence, but I’ll wager he’ll do it better than Jagielka, who needs to stop attempting these raking cross field balls, and give it to Barry or McCarthy, or indeed to Stones, and let them do what they’re palpably better at doing. The Giant Sakho at the RS is what he is, a stopper, but if you look at his pass completion stats, they’re exemplary, always high 90’s%. That’s because his average pass distance is about 2 yards, but that just shows that he knows what he is, but more importantly knows what he isn’t. Jags needs to do the same. Technically, Jags is the ‘current’ England captain, but he wasn’t given that honour for being like Maldini, he got it because he’s a blooming good defender, and can rally his troops around him. Attempting the glorious pass has cost us goals this season, and will only serve to undermine his status as a leading defender for Everton, let alone for England. Whilst he was wobbly yesterday, you could see it affected Galloway too, who had an altogether poorer game around the fringes with poor first touches out wide. So, in Mori we trust, presuming that’s who’ll line up with Stones against Norwich and Sunderland, and at least until we see what damage has been done to Jags’ suspect knee.
A little word for Deulofeu. I sometimes think he’s on a different wavelength to the rest of the team, and that of course can be a positive as well as a negative. I think he needs to play consistently so that those around him start to read him better, because I’m damned if I’m going to suggest that he brings his level down to that of the rest of the team. The lad has real talent, he’s mercurial of course, and he’ll frustrate as well as excite, probably in equal measure, but I expect him to be able to rip most defences apart with his vision, his technique and his runs. We need to feed that, not fear it. Have that on one side, Mirallas (remember him, second top scorer last season?) on the other, with Rom in the middle, with Barkley tucked in just behind, and that looks like a fearsome front four if you ask me. It might expose our full backs a bit, but if we scare that bedevilment out of the opposition, maybe they won’t be pushing up that much anyway.
We’ve got to try it, I’d expect nothing less.